The No. 4 Wichita State Shockers are a huge favorite tonight as they play host to the Southern Illinois Salukis at Charles Koch Arena in a matchup of Missouri Valley Conference foes. There’s practically no reason the Shockers shouldn’t run their record to 26-0, but should we give SIU a chance?
Wichita State blew the doors off the Salukis in their first meeting earlier this year in Carbondale, 82-67. Racing out to a commanding 17-point halftime advantage, the Shockers let SIU make somewhat of a game out of it by being outscored 35-33 over the final 20 minutes. For SIU, maybe this will give them some extra confidence going in to tonight’s game.
The Shockers have the advantage in nearly ever major statistical category, but the game isn’t played on paper. The game is played on the court, as we all know, and Wichita State has superior talent across the board as well, led offensively by forward Cleanthony Early. Early averages team-bests in points (16.3) and rebounds (6.3) per game, and he’s got two excellent sophomore guards on the outside in Fred Van Vleet (12 ppg, 41.9 3FG%) and Ron Baker (12.6 ppg, 35.2 3FG%). All the offensive numbers are nice to look at, but Wichita State hangs their hat on their stifling defense and solid work on the glass.
The Shockers are 11th in the country allowing just 60 points per game while limiting opponents to measly 39.2 percent shooting. The Salukis managed to shoot 54.1 percent in their first meeting (Wichita State shot 60 percent) and were plus-seven from the free-throw line. They’ll need to tighten up on defense and maintain their advantage at the charity stripe to keep this one close.
Desmar Jackson is the player who gives the Salukis an fighter’s chance to pull off the huge upset. Jackson averages nearly 20 points per game and has scored in double figures every game this year. In the first meeting, he was 6-for-9 from the floor including a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line en route to a 19-point effort. The problem was Jackson, Sean O’Brien (19 points) and Jalen Pendleton (16 points) combined for 54 of their team’s 67 points and missing from the stat sheet was second-leading scorer Anthony Beale Jr. who, despite playing 34 minutes before fouling out, attempted just three field goals.
The Salukis are playing with more confidence of late. They’ve won four straight, including convincing wins over Indiana State (by 19) and Missouri State (by 18), but they’re just 2-8 on the season on the road which doesn’t bode well heading into tonight.
For Southern Illinois to shock the Shockers, they’ll need a much more balanced attack on offense including production from their bench. They’ll also need Beale to get involved in a big way to help ease the burden on Jackson. It’s a long shot they’ll leave Wichita with a win, but that’s why they play the game.
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